School of Historical Studies
By Nigel Smith
I should admit at the outset to a guilty conscience. I should have been a physicist (it was my best subject), but around the age of fifteen was converted to the humanities by an enthusiastic English teacher who had been a professional actor. Plato’s suspicion of the artist survives in me somewhere. When I went to university to read English and history, I thought studying literature would help me be a better person, that it would lead to some kind of moral and ethical wisdom, and that may finally be true, but not in any straightforward or obvious way. It did at least keep me out of harm’s way by making the library the place I most wanted to be, reading books.
Since at least the eighteenth century, our sense of literature, when compared with science, has been characterized at a certain aesthetic extreme. Oscar Wilde’s much quoted statement in the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of its best versions: “All art is quite useless.” To be literature, a work of literary creativity must dissociate itself from that which is useful. In this sense, utility and artistic value must be separated, like Immanuel Kant’s “purposeful purposelessness.”
Yet even with these arguments in mind, we live with the inescapability of literature, and that its greatest examples elicit enthusiastic admiration and, in the reading, great pleasure. One typical lunchtime conversation in my year at IAS was concerned with the significance of Giovanni Boccaccio, drawing in a classical philosopher, an ancient historian, and a literary critic. Another was on the considerable influence of Cornelius Tacitus as a writer. In nearly every Monday lunchtime talk in the School of Historical Studies during the past academic year, the issue of the function of metaphor—one of the most central literary issues— surfaced. The case has recently been made that Kant derived an important part of his philosophy from an encounter with some of John Milton’s lyrics, triggering effectively a revolution in the philosophy of mind.1
By Angelos Chaniotis
The study of cinematic representations of ancient history is one of the most rapidly rising fields of classical scholarship. As an important part of the modern reception of classical antiquity, movies inspired by Greek and Roman myth and history are discussed in academic courses, conferences, textbooks, handbooks, and doctoral theses. Such discussions involve more than a quest for mistakes—a sometimes quite entertaining enterprise. They confront classicists and ancient historians with profound questions concerning their profession: What part does the remote past play in our lives? How do modern treatments of the past reflect contemporary questions and anxieties? How is memory of the past continually constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed?
My father worked in the movie industry in the 1950s and 60s as a producer and leaseholder of one of Greece’s largest movie theaters. This may have been the impetus for me to become a cinephile. However, my fascination with the representation of history on the big screen is part of my interest in how memory is shaped. Many Members of the School of Historical Studies, past and present, share this interest. Adele Reinhartz (Member, 2011–12) is the author of Scripture on the Silver Screen (Westminster John Knox Press, 2003) and Jesus of Hollywood (Oxford University Press, 2007); among current Members, the archaeologist Yannis Hamilakis studies the place of the past in modern Mediterranean societies and their media; the ancient historian Nathanael Andrade incorporates movies into undergraduate teaching; and the historian of Latin America Jeff Gould directs historical documentaries.
By Uta Nitschke-Joseph
In June 2012, an early work by Erwin Panofsky (1892–1968) was found in an armored cabinet in the basement of the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte in Munich. The study, “Die Gestaltungsprincipien Michelangelos, Besonders in ihrem Verhältnis zu denen Raffaels” (“Michelangelo’s Principles of Style, Especially in Relation to Those of Raphael”), fills a gap within the extensive list of publications of one of the most eminent art historians of the twentieth century.
Many knew about it, many looked for it, but no one was able to find it. Assumed lost in the bombing of Hamburg during World War II, Panofsky’s manuscript on Michelangelo, written at the end of the second decade of the twentieth century, had become a legend, a mystery that, as the years went by, was less and less likely to be solved. Not even the correct title had been preserved. All that was known was that during the late spring of 1920, Panofsky’s study had been accepted as his Habilitation thesis by the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Hamburg, and after the required additional examination, Panofsky had received the venia legendi. Then the manuscript vanished, until now, when it reappeared in the most unlikely place, a safe in the basement of what used to be the administration building of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party in Munich. What had happened? This account attempts to reconstruct the history of the manuscript based on information gathered from publications like the Erwin Panofsky Korrespondenz 1910–1968 (ed. Dieter Wuttke, 5 vols. [Wiesbaden, 2001–11]), Horst Bredekamp’s article “Ex nihilo: Panofsky’s Habilitation” (in Erwin Panofsky: Beiträge des Symposions Hamburg 1992, ed. Bruno Reudenbach [Berlin, 1994], 31–51), and recent newspaper articles as well as critical details provided by Gerda Panofsky, Erwin’s second wife and widow, and Stephan Klingen from the Zentralinstitut.
By Michael van Walt van Praag
Human beings have waged war or engaged in violent conflict with each other since ancient times, an observation that prompted a Member at the Institute to suggest in the course of a casual conversation that surely it was a waste of time and resources to try to prevent or resolve armed conflicts, since there will always be others.
War, by any name,* does indeed seem to be a permanent feature of human society, as is disease for that matter. We do not consider the efforts of physicians to cure patients or the research that goes into finding cures for illnesses a waste of time, despite this. Both phenomena, armed conflict and disease, change over time as circumstances change and as human beings develop ways to prevent or cure some kinds of ills. A doctor treats a patient for that patient’s sake without necessarily having an impact on the propensity of others to fall ill. Mediators and facilitators seek to help resolve conflicts to bring an end to the suffering of those caught in their violence and destruction. Researchers in both fields hope to contribute in a broader and perhaps more fundamental way to understanding and addressing causes of these human ills and to finding new or improved remedies for them.
By Brandon C. Look
If the eighteenth century is to be seen as the “Age of Reason,” then one of the crucial stories to be told is of the trajectory of philosophy from one of the most ardent proponents of the powers of human reason, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716), to the philosopher who subjected the claims of reason to their most serious critique, Immanuel Kant (1724–1804). Not only is the story of Kant’s Auseinandersetzung with Leibniz important historically, it is also important philosophically, for it has implications about the nature and possibility of metaphysics, that branch of philosophy concerned with fundamental questions such as what there is, why there is anything at all, how existing things are causally connected, and how the mind latches onto the world. Like many philosophical debates, however, it is also prone to a kind of “eternal recurrence” to those who are ignorant of it.
Leibniz was a “rationalist” philosopher; that is, he was committed to two theses: (i) he believed that the mind has certain innate ideas—it is not, as John Locke and his fellow empiricists say, a tabula rasa or blank slate; and (ii) he believed in—and, in fact, made explicit—the “principle of sufficient reason,” according to which “there is nothing for which there is not a reason why it is so and not otherwise.” This principle had enormous metaphysical consequences for Leibniz, for it allowed him to argue that the world, as a series of contingent things, could not have the reason for its existence within it; rather there must be an extramundane reason—God. Further, as a response to the mind-body problem, Leibniz advanced the theory of “pre-established harmony,” according to which there is no interaction at all between substances; the mind proceeds and “unfolds” according to its own laws, and the body moves according to its own laws, but they do so in perfect harmony, as is fitting for something designed and created by God. Strictly speaking, however, Leibniz was not a dualist; he did not believe that there were minds and bodies—at least not in the same sense and at the most fundamental level of reality. Rather, in his mature metaphysical view, there are only simple substances, or monads, mind-like beings endowed with forces that ground all phenomena. Finally, according to Leibniz, since these simple substances are ontologically primary and ground the phenomena of matter and motion, space and time are merely the ordered relations derivative of the corporeal phenomena. Leibniz contrasted his view with that of Isaac Newton, according to whom there is a sense in which space and time can be considered absolute and space can be considered something substantial.